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Elderly LIers' 'broken' hearts mended for Valentine's Day

Coram’s Rita and Howard Kleiner have been married for 61 years, and thanks to modern medicine, they are able to enjoy this Valentine’s Day together.

“It was a complete shock that I would have to have bypass surgery,” said Rita, 82, adding, “I’m on the mend, of course.” 

The pair’s story of broken and then mended hearts began last January when Howard, 86, had a valve replacement at Long Island’s Stony Brook Hospital.

“Mr. Kleiner had a problem with an aortic valve,” said Dr. James Taylor, the director of the Heart Institute for Stony Brook, who performed procedures on both Howard and Rita.

“Roughly, a little more than a year ago he underwent a new procedure called ‘trans-catheter aortic valve replacement’ -- or TAVR -- where we use a balloon expandable valve to replace his valve without having to open his chest,” said Taylor.

Howard recovered well from the procedure, but the Kleiners were back in the hospital again a few weeks ago. This time, it was Rita who needed medical care.

Rita was experiencing fatigue, shortness of breath and chest discomfort, Taylor said. A cardiac workup revealed that she had blockages in her coronary arteries.

“So she underwent coronary bypass surgery,” explained Taylor, adding that the procedure was “full open-heart surgery.”

Luckily, like her husband, Rita handled the procedure well. “They both should have excellent prognoses after these two procedures,” Taylor said.

A large part of their successful recoveries is likely due to the support and love they gave each other.

“I think it’s important for people, particularly as they are elderly," Taylor said. "It’s very important that they have support both while they’re in the hospital, and even more importantly when they go home from the hospital.”

Now, the pair, who are active musicians and have three children and six grandchildren, are focusing on enjoying their time together and with their family.

Rita says their goals for the future are “to stay alive, continue playing our music ... and to continue all our activities in Bretton Woods with all our friends.”

February is Heart Awareness Month, for more information about cardiac diseases and conditions, contact your doctor or visit the American Heart Association’s website.